Writer Carol Shields, who died of cancer at age 68, did not begin life as a Canadian, despite becoming one of that country’s foremost literary figures; In fact, she was born and raised in the same Chicago suburb as Ernest Hemingway.
it’s hard to imagine two writers with more different ways of seeing the world, and the influence of geography on style was perhaps what shields was referring to when he said in an interview that canada had been a “very good country for writers. we don’t have a long literary tradition. people aren’t intimidated by the ghosts of hemingway and faulkner. we don’t really like heroes either. the concept of heroes is strange, and I think that’s a very revealing piece of our spirit national: no one deserves to be better than anyone else”.
That final sentence perhaps defines Shields’ fiction: her 10 novels, including The Stone Diaries and Larry’s Party, three collections of short stories and poems, and several plays, biographies, and critical studies, better than any other. other. she was frequently praised for her masterful portrayal of everyday life and for her ability to present complex and subtle subjects in a deceptively light and comical way.
I would never tell epic stories filled with great heroes and heroines. rather, his achievement was to explore everyday triumphs and tragedies in a way that seemed anything but pedestrian, bringing to the task a wit and quiet acerbity that continually shed light on the business of turning lives into stories, both inside and out. of the books.
Shields was born and raised in Oak Park, Illinois, the daughter of a candy factory manager and a school teacher, and later attended the University of Hanover, Indiana. During her time there she participated in an exchange program with the University of Exeter and she met her future husband Donald, a civil engineer with whom she would emigrate to Canada in 1957.
Shields taught at the University of Ottawa from 1977 to 1988, and after moving across the country, she and Donald eventually settled in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she taught English at the University of Manitoba since 1990, and then chancellor of the university of winnipeg since 1996. the couple moved to victoria, british columbia, in 2000, where shields maintained a critical interest in world affairs, books, and topics as diverse as trilobites, bees, apples, feminism, geology, evolution and conscience.
During the early years of their marriage, Shields was largely preoccupied with raising five children, although she found time to complete an MA in English literature at the University of Ottawa and publish her thesis on the 19th-century woodland pioneer and writer susanna moodie. While her children were still young, she began to write poetry, and released two collections, others and intersects, with a local press.
His moodie interest served as the inspiration for his first novel, Little Ceremonies, which appeared in 1976, possibly reflecting some of his concerns about his own vocation; The protagonist of it was a biographer trying to write fiction for the first time.
At the time, Shields was 40 years old, and by today’s youth-oriented standards, that was a late start. but the book’s positive reception (she won the Canadian Authors Association’s Fiction Award) and her growing self-confidence convinced her to continue, and two more novels followed over the next six years. In Box Garden (1977) and Casualtance (1980), she began to develop her exceptional talent for discovering the extraordinary in the mundane and the dramatic in the domestic.
However, it was with two later novels that Shields’ reputation really began to come into its own, not least because it was also discovered by a British audience. in part, it was luck; Christopher Potter, publisher of the fledgling Four Estate, was reviewing small Canadian and American publishers, convinced that they were sources of underappreciated literary greatness. He stumbled across Shield’s fifth novel, Swann, and quickly grabbed it, along with its author’s background list.
The novel was published in Britain in 1990 as Mary Swann, and its story of four people competing to piece together the life of a murdered poetess garnered immediate critical acclaim. Three years later, the stone journals were shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won a Pulitzer Prize and the Governor General’s Award in Canada. shields’ international reputation was secured.
the stone diaries and larry’s party (1997) perhaps most obviously represent their author’s commitment to commemorating otherwise unremarkable lives. In the first, we hear the story of daisies’ goodwill, from birth on the kitchen floor to death in a nursing home, through childhood, marriage, bereavement, remarriage, motherhood. and work. She is, Shields has said, “one of those women who erases herself, who somehow escapes her own life,” and though Shields’s purpose in demonstrating this was essentially feminist, the novel is marked by a great measure of empathy and humor.
Broadly speaking, Larry’s Party did the same job for a different genre, telling the life of one man through the metaphor of his obsession with garden mazes. “Men are portrayed as buffoons these days, and I was trying not to do that,” Shields commented, “but men are the biggest mystery to me. I wanted to talk about this men-in-the-world thing.” “. the novel won the orange award for fiction in 1998.
shortly after receiving this award, shields was diagnosed with an aggressive strain of breast cancer and subsequently underwent a mastectomy and several cycles of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Throughout her illness, she spoke openly about the possibility, and later, the inevitability, of dying, and she never failed to impress many of her interviewers with her strength and good spirits.
She also refused to stop writing, publishing a highly regarded collection of short stories, Dressing Up for Carnival, in 2000, a Jane Austen biography in 2001, and a final novel, booker-nominated, unless last year. . she was working on another novel in the months before her death. She was a Companion of the Order of Canada, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and a Fellow of the Order of Manitoba.
shieldes was unfailingly supported in her illness by her husband and children. That home life was as important to her as her job is evident from the lesser theme, which tells of a family torn apart by the sudden departure of one of her children. Her narrator is a writer concerned with the continued marginalization of women by the literary establishment. For Shields, who has earned a central role in Canadian and world literature, as well as numerous readers, such a fate seems highly unlikely.
survived by don and his children john, anne, catherine, meg and sara.
· Carol Ann Shields, writer, born June 2, 1935; died on July 16, 2003